Friday, December 26, 2008

evangelicals and politics: responses to the Evangelical Manifesto

From the editorialists at Christianity Today...

In May, a steering committee of nine prominent evangelical leaders and about 80 charter signatories issued an Evangelical Manifesto. In an era when most Americans think of evangelicals mainly as a voting bloc, these leaders tried to refocus the meaning of evangelical identity.

This manifesto had three aims:

  • To tell the world and remind evangelical insiders that our identity is centered not in political activism (however positive that activism may be) but in our faith in Jesus and in his radical call to discipleship.
  • To tell ourselves that we in many ways fail to live up to our calling in Christ, and that we need to reform our lives and our churches. Without such reform, we can hardly be surprised at the negative stereotypes that abound about North American evangelicals.
  • To rethink our place in the public square and to stop exacerbating the political and cultural polarization of U.S. society. When public perceptions of evangelicalism are created by the harshest and most strident voices, it is important to create an evangelical culture of civility.

The document stirred a lot of discussion and criticism. Much of the discussion missed the document's main thrust....

The reason (in the view of the CT'ers): a politicized worldview.

And that is indeed part of the problem. The public perception of the word evangelical has taken on a decidedly political cast. But it is biblical, heartfelt, cross-centered faith that drives (or should drive) evangelicals, whether they are active in public policy, education, evangelism, Christian nurture, or relief and development....

The text of the document makes it clear: It advocates no particular political agenda while it affirms evangelicals' well-known commitment to protecting human life at every age, to strengthening the family as God designed it, as well as to working on the wide variety of social issues that threatens the common good. The document advocates engagement in the public sphere while urging that we avoid captivity to political ideology....

Fortunately, some critics engaged it in a constructive spirit, most notably Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission and Southern Seminary's Albert Mohler....[They] the manifesto too weak and ambiguously worded. They challenged the drafters to be bolder in their claims for evangelical truth—a caution that proved prescient when New Age guru Deepak Chopra publicly praised the document. They also suggested that the document's call for civility in the political process needed a strong dose of realism. Nevertheless, they engaged the document on its own terms—not in terms of some imagined power play—and thus were faithful and charitable critics....


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